Sunday, January 10, 2010
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
As a filmmaker, Willy Bearden is best known for his popular "Memphis Memoirs" programs about local history.
"Overton Park: A Century of Change," "Elmwood: Reflections of Memphis" and "Playing for a Piece of the Door: A History of Garage Bands in Memphis" continue to draw viewers (and pledges) whenever they air on public television.
For his first feature film, Bearden is keeping the focus on the past, but he has moved from community to personal history and from documentary to drama.
Inspired by a family story he first heard from his mother, Bearden recently finished shooting "One Came Home," an ambitious period piece set in Mississippi just after World War II that he hopes to debut in theaters early next year.
"This thing has been like grabbing a passing freight train and hanging on for dear life, it's so different from what I've done before," said Bearden, who was feted on set with champagne and cake on his 59th birthday on Aug. 14, near the end of the project's monthlong production.
"We bit off more than we could chew, but we swallowed it," said Bearden, in a follow-up metaphor. Even so, making a movie apparently is as good as a crash diet: Bearden said he lost 15 pounds while shooting.
Most of "One Came Home" was shot at the Davies Manor Plantation in Bartlett, Shelby County's oldest open-to-the-public log cabin home, with buildings on the grounds that date back to at least 1830. The historic setting added production value that was way beyond what the filmmakers otherwise could have afforded. Other scenes were shot in Tupelo and Holly Springs.
"We're trying to make a million-dollar film on a $30,000 budget," said director of photography Ryan Parker, a local-film veteran who shot "One Came Home" with the increasingly popular Red One high-resolution digital camera, known for its film-like images.
"We're tying to give the impression that you're walking into 1946 with the sets and costumes and production detail," Parker said. "We don't want to just add a sepia tone and say it's the past."
Rachel Boulden, 24, the movie's art director, said her challenge on "One Came Home" was atypical: She had to make Davies Manor look newer, rather than older, for the camera: "We're actually kind of giving it a face lift, so it will look like 1946 instead of the 19th century."
Nancy McDonough, executive director of Davies Manor, said "One Came Home" was the first movie to be shot at the historic location. (Bearden agreed to do a marketing film for Davies Manor in exchange for the use of the location.)
"I don't think we knew what we were in for, but it was really a great experience," she said. "Most of our visitors are from out of town, so we can't just shut down. We put a sign on the door that said right now we're not an 1850s log cabin, we're a 1940s movie set, but people were thrilled -- they seemed to really enjoy it."
Written by Bearden and Memphis writer David Tankersley, "One Came Home" is the story of a con artist who takes advantage of a proper Mississippi family by pretending to be the wartime buddy of the family's son, who was killed in combat in Europe.
In fact, Bearden said, his mother's brother, Murphy Wright, was shot and killed in the Netherlands on March 24, 1945, less than two months before V-E Day. He was buried overseas.
A soldier friend did write the family saying he knew Wright. The idea that the man was a con artist, however, comes from Bearden's imagination.
Bearden said he found some old letters about his late uncle, and they told "a heartbreaking story of a kid from rural Mississippi who was just afraid."
Said Bearden of his family: "They weren't poor people, they owned the store and had tenants on the farm, but they were country people. They were used to sitting up with their dead and, of course, they didn't get to do this. So it left a big hole."
The inspiration isn't the only family aspect to "One Came Home." The director's daughter, Savannah Bearden, 28, a member of the Emerald Theatre Company at TheatreWorks, stars as a character based on Bearden's mother.
The director's other children also are involved. Matt Bearden, 21, is a dolly grip, while Maggie Bearden, also 21, is a hair and makeup artist.
The con artist is played by Corey Parker, 44, a professional actor who recently moved to Memphis (his wife, Angela, is a native Memphian) after years in New York and Los Angeles, appearing in such movies and TV shows as "Biloxi Blues," "Will & Grace" and "thirtysomething."
Bearden said he only recently became interested in the idea of directing a narrative film.
"At my core, I'm a storyteller, and I've used that to tell the story of Memphis over the past 10, 15 years. So I don't know what really clicked in me, but maybe it was sitting in a dark room for a couple hundred hours trying to edit a documentary and get the people to say what you want them to say."
"One Came Home" was produced with what Bearden called a "core" crew of about 25 people. Some scenes -- including a church service and a traditional Southern outdoor party -- required 30 to 40 extras.
A longtime filmmaker and event producer, Bearden makes a living creating commercials, corporate and educational films (for the Elvis Presley Birthplace Museum in Tupelo and the Cotton Museum in Downtown Memphis, among other clients), and by staging such productions as the annual Blues Music Awards.
"I've always said my job is to make sure I have a balance between art and technology," he said. "The craft of filmmaking is leading your viewers to exactly what you want them to see, and, hopefully, to what you want them to feel."
Thursday, August 20, 2009
By John Beifuss
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
As Art Linkletter never said, kids say the darnedest things about body parts.
"There was a brown fake arm and a lot of tan fake arms," commented 6-year-old stoic-on-a-scooter Julia Comes, unfazed after her recent discovery of a table of bloody severed limbs in her upscale Midtown neighborhood, where the cast and crew of the MTV horror production "Savage County" was in residency this week.
Inspired by the successful Memphis production of "$5 Cover," director Craig Brewer's music-themed MTV serial drama, "Savage County" has united local and Hollywood talent to create a multi-"webisode" online series that will eschew bumpin' beats to focus on things that go bump in the night.
As a result, a long-empty 19th century home on Cowden in Central Gardens is serving as host for a few days to rampaging rustics, lethal yokels and bloodthirsty bumpkins -- or "killer hillbillies," in the playfully exaggerated and less alliterative phrase of writer-director David Harris. (The story is set in the flatlands of Texas, not the hills of Tennessee.)
One of the homicidal hayseeds, a sort of perverted Boo Radley played by Jeff Pope of Memphis, was killed in front of the high-definition cameras Monday night.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Pope, 33, as he was fitted by makeup designer Sandy Andrle with a neck injury attached to a tube through which blood was pumped after Memphis actress Ivy McLemore, 19, "slashed" the actor's throat with a rubber knife.
Covered in stage blood ("We buy K.D. Extra Dark -- it's the best!" Andrle enthused), McLemore sported a branding-iron "burn," courtesy of the crazed Hardell clan of "Savage County": a stylized blend of the letter "H" with some Texas-style hook 'em horns. Said Pope: "I thought it was the Van Halen logo."
"(The special effects field) is heavy with people who love gore and Goth, but you really need to know your chemicals and your compounds, especially if you're working in the South, with all the humidity," said Andrle, 26, whose credits include the TV miniseries "John Adams," which she said was "really good for smallpox and yellow fever."
A tale of Texas teenagers whose prank-gone-wrong inspires the murderous vengeance of a rural tribe that proudly traces its "We Show No Mercy" family motto to the Confederacy, "Savage County" is a follow-up in production strategy if not theme to Brewer's 15-part "$5 Cover," which made its debut May 1 online and on the Music Television network.
"$5 Cover" demonstrated that a Memphis-based project with a local cast and crew could be produced with a New York or California level of professionalism. Plus, Memphis is cheap: The "Savage County" budget is a tight $250,000, about $50,000 less than "$5 Cover." Both are productions of Brewer's BR2 company, with longtime Brewer collaborator, Memphian Erin Hagee, 32, as producer.
"Savage County" likely will premiere online early next year. Like "$5 Cover," it will consist of 15 seven- to nine-minute episodes that will form a coherent feature film when viewed in sequence.
Harris, 33, a Texas-raised, West Hollywood-based horror fan with MTV New Media who was a producer on "$5 Cover," has gathered a mix of local and Hollywood cast and crew members for his "Savage" brainchild. McLemore and Ryan Carter, the Memphis actors among the lead teenagers, were discovered by local directors: McLemore has a large role in John Michael McCarthy's upcoming "Cigarette Girl," while Carter appeared in Morgan Jon Fox's "OMG/HaHaHa." McCarthy is script supervisor on "Savage County," while Fox is second assistant director.
The ruthless rubes are all Memphians, played by Pope; John Malloy (the patriarch of the clan); burly Patrick Cox (a veteran maniac in such local productions as "Live Animals" and "Night"); and well-known Memphis artist, musician and puppeteer Jimmy Crosthwait, whose signature demented Dumbledore appearance -- shoulder-length hair, bib of a beard and wild eyes and smile -- seem made to order for "Savage County."
The craziness of the role of Wilbur Hardell provided Crosthwait with a needed distraction following the death Saturday of his longtime friend and collaborator, music legend Jim Dickinson.
"Wilbur runs up and down stairs, at one point with an ax, at one point with a shotgun, and chases teenage girls through the boonies," said Crosthwait, 63. "I haven't had this much fun since sliding down a steel cable from the balcony to the floor in my clown suit at the Electric Circus in New York City in the summer of love, 1967. Forty years later, I'm getting another crack at fame."
The 18-day shoot will wrap Monday at the Shelby County Correction Center after two days in Crawfordsville, Ark.
-- John Beifuss: 529-2394
Photos by Alan Spearman for the Commercial Appeal